Nel's New Day

November 19, 2013

Crazy News from Ideologues from the Cheneys to Alabama Judges

Even with the GOP home for one of its frequent long recesses, far-right insanity swirls through the news. Anyone following the media, for example, could hardly have missed the actions of the dysfunctional Cheney family. In brief: Liz Cheney moved to Wyoming to run against incumbent GOP Sen. Mike Enzi. She came out in opposition to marriage equality. Sister Mary is legally married to Heather Poe. Mary’s and Liz’s father Dick, who supported marriage equality in the 2004 election for vice-president, defended Liz and called for “compassion.” Mary and Heather posted on their Facebook page that Liz’s lack of support for their marriage is “offensive to say the least,” suggesting that Liz changed her position to campaign against Enzi.

The sisters’ mother, Lynne Cheney, interfered in the campaign in September when she told former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) at a charity event that he should endorse Liz Cheney. He told her he chose Enzi and accused Cheney’s candidacy as dividing state GOP members. Mother Cheney yelled “just shut up” at him three times but later denied saying it. Simpson called her denial “a damn baldfaced lie.”

Simpson also said, “It isn’t as if Mike Enzi were a left wing commie. … He has the backing of [Texas Sen. Ted] Cruz and [Kentucky Sen. Rand] Paul.” It doesn’t go farther right than that—at least at the present time.

Dick Cheney entered the fray after Ezni told website The Daily Beast that he felt “blindsided” by the primary challenge from his old fishing-buddy’s daughter. His “buddy” answered by saying that he and Enzi had not been friends and were certainly not fishing buddies.

Cheney’s four-month campaign has had other problems. She had to pay a $220 fee for falsifying the length of time she had lived in Wyoming while applying for a fishing license. She said a decade; the state said 72 days. Cheney then attacked the Wyoming Star-Tribune for reporting the incident and its editor by name, declaring, “Newspapers are dying, and that’s not a bad thing.”

Another messy GOP situation comes from the University of Texas where the Young Conservatives of Texas planned a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Game” on campus. Organizer Lorenzo V. Garcia was an intern for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and reportedly works for Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott. The “game”:

“There will be several people walking around the UT campus with the label ‘illegal immigrant’ on their clothing. Any UT student who catches one of these ‘illegal immigrants’ and brings them back to our table will receive a $25 gift card.”

This is the same group that hosted a “bake sale” in September that included “special pricing” for customers based on their race and ethnicity. Photos showed the brownie prices:  whites, $2; Asians, $1.50; Latinos, $1; blacks, $.75 and Native Americans $.25. There was even a $.25 discount for all women. Again, Garcia was a leader in the activity. He explained that it was a protest against affirmative action.

bake sale

Another protest fell flat. Last month, Larry Klayman, founder of Freedom Watch and Judicial Watch, asked millions of Americans to march on Washington, D.C. today with the intent to remove President Obama from office. Right-wing site BizPac reported that 40 groups showed up. The total number of people was approximately 100. At least, the weather was good.

Klayman6

With Thanksgiving nearing, a Walmart in Ohio set up a donation box in the employees’ workroom asking for donations to give “associates” a Thanksgiving dinner. Last year, Walmart made a profit of $15.7 billion, but its employees may not have enough food for Thanksgiving. The huge company has had shrinking profits for the past three quarters, however. Could it be because its employees can’t even afford to shop there because of their low wages?

Walmart

McDonalds has a solution for hunger on its “McResource” website for its workers: break food “into pieces” will keep them full. Other tips include “sing away stress” because it “can lower your blood pressure.” Those who are still stressed should take two vacations a year. Earlier McDonalds told workers to apply for food stamps. Federal minimum wage rate for their workers is $7.25 an hour; McDonalds makes billons annually.

Both Walmart and fast-food workers have been protesting their low pay, with thousands of people coming out in support. A bill, to be introduced in the House this week, would charge for protesting, at least against oil and gas companies. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) has proposed a bill that would mandate a $5,000 fee for protesting oil and gas drilling on public lands. Other provisions of the Federal Lands Jobs and Energy Security Act:

  • Automatically approve onshore drilling permits if the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) failed to act on them in 60 days;
  • Direct the DOI to begin commercial leasing for the development of oil shale, prohibited for over 80 years. Oil shale—unlike shale oil—has to be heated to almost 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit to produce crude oil before it is refined. Each barrel of oil requires three to five barrels of water, and the Natural Resources Defense Council calls it “the dirtiest fuel on the planet.”
  • Require the government to offer 10 leases on federal lands in 2014 for oil shale research and demonstration projects.
  • Mandate the government to hold at least 5 commercial lease sales of federal lands for oil shale development, each no less than 25,000 acres, before 2016.

According to the NRDC, oil shale production would emit four times more carbon pollution than producing conventional gasoline.

George Zimmerman, well-known for killing Trayvon Martin almost two years and then being acquitted, is on bail after allegedly attacking his girlfriend twice within the past week. Yesterday, she said he pointed a shotgun at her face, pushed her out of the house, and then barricaded the door. The Florida judicial system likes Zimmerman a lot: his bail is $9,000. 

In Montana a judge gave a rapist only 30 days in prison. Austin Smith Clem of Limestone County (AL) did better than that: the convicted man gets no prison time at all. He only needs to complete a two-year community corrections program designed for nonviolent offenders and serve an additional three years of probation. At least the county district attorney has filed a motion asking for prison time.

Alabama law also allows judges override juries and impose the death penalty instead of life in prison. This week the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to this law. Alabama judges have imposed the death penalty 95 times, and 43 of the defendants are still on death row in Alabama. 

One judge, who sentenced to death a defendant with an IQ of 65, said “the sociological literature suggests Gypsies intentionally test low on standard IQ tests.” Another said, “If I had not imposed the death sentence, I would have sentenced three black people to death and no white people.”

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer disagreed with the Court’s decision. One study found that overrides significantly increased in election years. Of the 31 states that allow capital punishment, only three permit a judge to override a jury’s sentencing decision—Alabama, Delaware and Florida.

Thus we see the actions of elected legislators and judges who fail to protect the people of the United States out of personal ideology.

September 11, 2013

NRA, ALEC Bring ‘Wave of Fear’

The NRA had a win yesterday when two Colorado legislators were voted out because they supported a universal background check for gun purchasing and a limit of 15 rounds in an ammunition magazine in the state. John Morse and Angela Giron were the targets in the recall that brought out fewer than 55,000 voters in an election requiring people to physically vote at the polls rather than using mail-in ballots. Only 35.66 percent in Giron’s district voted, a decline of 23 percent when she was elected. Morse was recalled by 343 votes in an election that brought out 21.25 percent of the voters, 37 percent decline since three years earlier.

People opposed to the new laws tried to recall five legislators but managed to get signatures for only Morse and Giron It was reported that recall supporters intimidated voters at Pueblo polling centers. One person said, “Volunteers are being followed, threatened, having their pictures taken and yelled at. We’re now being told that it’s bad enough to call 911 immediately.” Giron was also the target of the Pueblo newspaper, The Chieftain, who identified himself as a gun owner when he wrote her to tell her he was “responsible for the entire newspaper, including the newsroom.”

There was no real point to recalling these people because the law had already passed, their terms are up in a year, and the legislature still has a Democratic majority. No point except fear. Jon Caldara of the Colorado Independence Institute, claimed:

“If the president of the Senate of Colorado, who did nothing except pass the laws that Bloomberg wrote, gets knocked out, there will be a shudder, a wave of fear that runs across every state legislator across the country, that says, ‘I ain’t doing that ever. That is not happening to me. I will not become a national embarrassment, I will not take on those guys.’ That’s how big this is.”

The NRA paid almost $400,000 to send this “wave of fear” across the country.

At the same time, George Zimmerman, the poster person for Florida’s “stand your ground” laws, continues to be in the news. In the two months since he was acquitted  by a jury for the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin, the police have picked him up for speeding at least twice, once in Texas and the other time in Florida. After a panicky 911 call from Zimmerman’s wife two days ago, the police went to the home where she is living with her father. She reported on the call that “he’s going to shoot us,” had punched the father-in-law in the face, and grabbed her iPad and “then smashed it and cut it with a pocket knife.” The police is trying to get a copy of her video from the damaged iPad.

Zimmerman has a history of violence that was not brought out at the trial because evidence of “prior bad acts” are inadmissible, according to procedural rules, unless he testified under oath and claimed he had no history of violence. In a civil case, Zimmerman might be required to testify, but Florida’s law allows Zimmerman to be granted civil immunity, meaning that Martin’s family might have to pay Zimmerman’s lost wages and attorney’s fees. This part of the law comes from ALEC although they now claim that they no longer support this policy after massive protests across the country. Because of ALEC, over 30 states have adopted a form of “stand your ground” laws.

When Shellie Zimmerman called the police, she said that she was “really, really scared.” She said that he “continually has his hand on his gun and he keeps saying step closer and he is just threatening all of us.” According to police, Zimmerman said that he did not have a gun. In contradiction, his lawyer, Mark O’Mara said:

 “[Zimmerman] acted appropriately. He never took the weapon out. The only thing he really did, which is what he told the police, was on the outside of his shirt, he made sure the gun wasn’t moving anywhere and didn’t do anything because [Zimmerman’s father-in-law] Mr. Dean was sort of coming at him, that can sort of be seen in the video.”

When asked if he had the gun on his person and not elsewhere, for example in his car, O’Mara replied, “That’s correct.”

Shellie Zimmerman has recanted the story that she gave on the 911 call and to the police after talking to her lawyer. At this time she is receiving $4,300 each month from the legal defense of $300,000 that people donated to Zimmerman, income that might stop if Zimmerman goes back to jail.

O’Mara announced that he would no longer represent George Zimmerman in this case. At a later press conference when O’Mara was asked if he had any advice for Zimmerman, he replied, “Pay me.” Zimmerman still owes O’Mara for defending him in the murder trial. 

In another Florida story, the man who shot three people in a neighborhood feud, killing two of them, has gone beyond the state’s “stand your ground” law. William T. Woodward is now declaring defense by the “Bush doctrine.” He said that the men had been calling him names and yelling at him for over a month. On the fatal night, they supposedly said, “Come on boys. We’re going to get him. We’re going to get him, all three of us.” Nobody hit him or approached him or came on his property. Woodward took action by sneaking up on them and firing at them with a semiautomatic weapon.

According to Woodward’s lawyer, the Bush Doctrine, the foreign policy principle that George W. Bush used to invade Iraq, embraces “preventive” or pre-emptive war and can be equated to Woodward’s actions. Even now “stand your ground” laws include the word “imminent” but have no specific legal definition. A few minutes? A few hours? Maybe a few days? Or maybe something that might happen in the future, according to Enoch v. State.

And gun laws can get even crazier. Iowa won’t give drivers’ licenses to blind people, but the state will issue concealed gun carry permits to them. In the past it may have made a bit of sense (although I’m not sure how), but 2011 legal changes in gun permits means that blind people can carry firearms in public. A spokesperson from one county said that gun permits were given to at least three people who cannot legally drive and cannot read the application forms or had trouble doing this because they are visually impaired. Three other county sheriffs said that they also did this.

“I’m not an expert in vision,” Delaware Sheriff John LeClere said. “At what point do vision problems have a detrimental effect to fire a firearm? If you see nothing but a blurry mass in front of you, then I would say you probably shouldn’t be shooting something.” As Stevie Wonder, who has been blind since birth, said last January, “Imagine me with a gun. It’s just crazy.”

Gun rights advocates will support weapons for anyone—including the blind–but sometimes advocate restricting voting rights. Both of these are constitutional rights, but with the conservative push to rid the country of Democrats in legislatures, voting has become increasingly difficult. At the same time, ALEC and the NRA are determined to make the act of buying a gun far easier than it already is. There are 33 states that require no ID for buying a weapon; there are no states that allow voting without an ID. Some of the ID laws are reasonable; more and more of them are not. This ID mania is the “wave of fear” that’s sweeping the nation.

July 23, 2013

Zimmerman Trial Leaves Terrible Legacy

The dialog surrounding the Trayvon Martin killing and the George Zimmerman trial has swirled throughout the media for the past ten days, with terrifying responses. Conservative pundits used President Obama’s speech about Martin to continue their racist statements. Sean Hannity wondered if Obama compared himself to Martin because “he did a little blow.” Fox News’ Todd Starnes called President Obama “unpresidential” and “race-baiter in chief” who is “trying to tear our country apart.” Conservative commentator Pamela Geller called the president a “buffoon,” “racist,” and “eager to publicly lynch Geroge [sic] Zimmerman” and argued that the president is guilty of “sedition.”

According to Geraldo Rivera, Martin was responsible for his own killing because he wore a hooded sweatshirt on that rainy night. The smear campaign on conservative media last week continued the one that they have waged for the past 15 months since the Zimmerman killing became a national story. George Zimmerman’s father, Robert Zimmerman, furthered the racists remarks in his book, published a month before the trial finished, in which he listed many black organizations and leaders in the chapter “Who Are the True Racists?”

In the beginning of the discussion, even conservative columnist Rich Lowery agreed with Al Sharpton that Zimmerman should be charged because of the killer’s “stupendous errors in judgment.” Glenn Beck, however, fanned the fire of hatred by publishing a list of criminal offenses that Martin might have committed while he was alive. On Fox, guest Doug Burns, a former federal prosecutor, hypothesized that it was possible to kill someone with Skittles or break a bottle of iced tea and kill someone with the jagged edge.

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote a column explaining why Zimmerman was not at fault when he assumed that Martin’s hoodie made it clear that the boy was a thug. As an older white man, Cohen described Martin’s sweatshirt as  a “uniform we all recognize,” probably just as “we all” know that women who wear provocative clothing deserve to be raped.

By the end of the trial, many people still didn’t know that Zimmerman had stalked Martin, even after the police had told him to stop. And they have the support from the NRA that claimed “Stand Your Ground” laws are “a fundamental human right.”

Since the trial, revelations indicate that the flawed process may have contributed to Zimmerman’s exoneration. Initially the sequestration of the jury members was depicted as onerous, but the $1,500 expenditure per day per juror makes the experience appear rather luxurious, especially with steak dinners, manicures and pedicures, and excursions. They were permitted to watch television and movies, visit shopping malls, and receive unsupervised visits from families, and check their cellphones at the Marriott where they stayed.

Juror B-37 shows this freedom when she wrote about discussing her proposed book—now scuttled—with her husband, just the morning after the jury decision was announced: “The potential book was always intended to be a respectful observation of the trial from my and my husband’s perspectives solely and it was to be an observation that our ‘system’ of justice can get so complicated that it creates a conflict with our ‘spirit’ of justice.”

The same juror clearly revealed her bias in her interview with Anderson Cooper when she said Zimmerman’s “heart was in the right place” when he tracked and killed Trayvon Martin but refers to Martin as “a boy of color.” Although the juror didn’t consider the man she called “George” guilty, she said about him: “I think he just didn’t know when to stop. He was frustrated, and things just got out of hand.”

Although Zimmerman did not proclaim the “stand your ground” defense, it was used in both the jury’s discussion and in the jury instructions. Judge Debra Nelson clarified that the jury should consider the law:

“If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

After the trial, Juror B-37 said that they used the “stand your ground” defense to declare Zimmerman innocent of murder. Using that law, the jury came up with the only verdict that they could, using Florida’s law allowing people the right to hunt down another person and then claim self-defense. The dead person has no rights to self-defense, but the killer has many rights with no need for remorse. Especially helpful in Zimmerman’s case is that his father is a retired Virginia Supreme Court magistrate who published the e-book, Florida v. Zimmerman–Uncovering the Malicious Prosecution of My Son George, immediately before the trial.

Although hindsight is 20/20, William Boardman’s analysis of the lead prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda rings true. He describes de la Rionda’s voice in his closing as “flat, his tone subdued and resigned” when he characterizes Martin an “almost dismissive way.” Throughout the trial, the prosecution humanized Zimmerman far more than it did Martin. De la Rionda also spent ten minutes apologizing for his witness, Rachel Jeantel, and, after the trial, said, “We don’t get to pick our witnesses.”

Jarvis DeBerry wrote about the comments from a former prosecutor who tried hundreds of cases in the defendant in his column, “Did George Zimmerman’s prosecutors try to get him off?” The lawyer argued prosecutors should have sought a change of venue because of the potential conflicts, including a probably tainted jury pool. The jury was composed of six white women, including the infamous B-37 who claimed that there were “riots in Sanford” that never happened.

Running the prosecution team was elected state attorney Angela Corey, who was appointed by the governor as special prosecutor for this case after the local prosecutor’s recusal. Corey is a controversial figure in Florida legal circles and was accused of filing a “perjurious affidavit” in the Zimmerman case by attorney Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School in 2012. Corey was criticized by others for charging Zimmerman with 2nd degree murder since, they argued, there wasn’t enough evidence to prove it.

When the Department of Justice took the gun used to kill Martin as part of an ongoing civil rights investigation, right-wingers became incensed about the lack of his rights and the thought that he wouldn’t have a gun available to stalk and kill someone else. A variety of sources, including a gun store, conservative author, and an Ohio PAC, have offered to supply him with weapons.

First, Zimmerman still has at least one gun because he and his wife had multiple guns. And second, Zimmerman’s own attorney, Mark O’Mara said, “That particular weapon, he should never carry again. There’s no reason to carry a weapon that’s already killed somebody.”

With the end of Zimmerman’s criminal trial, Florida continues with another “stand your ground” defense. Michael David Dunn, 45, has pleaded not guilty to the murder of an unarmed black teenager who listened to loud rap music while sitting in the back seat of a car. Witnesses saw the white guy get out of his car and shoot the teen at least eight times.

Dunn said he felt threatened and acted in self-defense because the law gives him the right to “stand your ground.” It’s a case of SBSWB: Sitting in the Back Seat While Black. Steven Colbert may be right when he said that the United States needs border security to protect us from Florida.

Martin’s death is tragedy enough, but it is followed by parents across the United States being forced to tell their black children that they are second-class citizens. Parents can tell their white children, “Stranger Danger.” Black children must be trained to see every white man as “Stranger Killer” who has the right to murder blacks with no justification other than they felt threatened by the black’s existence. That is the legacy of ALEC’s “stand your ground” law and George Zimmerman’s trial.

July 21, 2013

Religion Roundup Contains One Ray of Hope

Arrogant is the word that seems to best describe Christian extremists in the United States. No one demonstrates it better than David Young, long-time chief of staff for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and wannabe replacement for Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA). At the recent Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, Young worked hard to one-up his two competitors, promising that “as a Senator, he would invite New York Senator Chuck Schumer to lunch so that he could share the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Young’s campaign website describes him as a man with the “knowledge, experience, and quick wit” to stand as a “formidable check and balance” on President Barack Obama and Democratic senators. “There’s not a grandstanding bone in his body; he’s even-keeled, thoughtful and even kind,” the bio adds.

New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait suggested that he might want to try another Jewish senator. He wrote:

“As a senator from New York, [Schumer] has the least to gain politically from a high-profile repudiation of the Jewish faith and conversion to evangelical Christianity. Schumer is also a really good negotiator, and Young could walk out of the room having agreed to become a Jew.”

Arrogant George Zimmerman, exonerated in the murder of teenager Trayvon Martin, also knows that God—not the Devil—made him kill Trayvon Martin. In an interview with Sean Hannity week, Zimmerman showed no regret although he did say about the Martin family, “I am sorry that they buried their child.” About the shooting, he said, “I felt it was all God’s plan.”

Beer, or at least their commercials, has turned Jesse Watters (Fox Nation) to religion. While co-hosting Fox & Friends, he criticized a Samuel Adams ad that used the Declaration of Independence without the words “endowed by their Creator.” Watters claimed that was a sign that “the terrorists have won” and that the Tea Party has been “targeted.” When co-host Clayton Morris explained that the Beer Institute guidelines require its advertising to not mention religion, substitute host Anna Kooiman disagreed: “Yeah, that’s what they say. They’re puttin’ it off on some old red tape there.” Some people may not have paid attention to whatever she said because her dress was hiked up to the top of her thighs.

Almost two years ago, Watters’ Fox Nation published death wishes for President Obama, and the year before he stalked a female blogger who criticized Bill O’Reilly for his claim that an 18-year-old woman would not have been raped and killed if she hadn’t gotten drunk. Watters is also known for his Fox segments featuring homophobia, transphobia, and anti-immigrant content. Yet he wants to protect the term “endowed by their Creator” which includes “…all men are created equal, … with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Conservatives bloggers, led by Breitbart.com, are trying to prevent freedom of religion in the military by claiming that the “Pentagon may court martial soldiers who share Christian faith.” This is what Defense Department spokesman Nate Christensen told Fox News Radio commentator Todd Starnes:

“The Department of Defense places a high value on the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions and respects (and supports by its policy) the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs. The Department does not endorse any one religion or religious organization, and provides free access of religion for all members of the military services.”

Christensen said, “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense.” Todd Starnes translated this into “the Pentagon confirmed to Fox News that Christian evangelism is against regulations.” The Family Research Council dived into the discussion and reported that Christians are being persecuted in the military. Most of their references came from the highly unreliable Breitbart.com and Todd Starnes.

It’s the nonreligious service members who suffer discrimination. Noting that almost one-fourth of those in the military are nonreligious, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) proposed that these people have nonreligious chaplains from “nontheistic” organizations. His rationale is that the only counseling option other than chaplains is a mental health expert that gives a stigma and lacks confidentiality. Polis’ amendment failed in a 150-274 vote with all Republicans joined by 44 Democrats.

Bryan Fischer (American Family Association) is now furious with Liz Cheney for trying to take Wyoming’s senate seat from a GOP incumbent because she and the rest of her family, including former Vice-President Dick Cheney, don’t reject sister Mary for being a lesbian. Fischer explains it this way:

“If you have a bank robber in the family, that doesn’t mean you automatically have to support that as a lifestyle choice. If you have a drug dealer in the family, you don’t have to automatically support that as a profession….It’s an absurd argument, though it has a strong emotional appeal. That may have affected Dick Cheney’s view of same-sex marriage, and it may well have affected Liz Cheney’s view of same-sex marriage.”

In the Catholic Church, Purgatory is a kind of holding area for those who die if they’re not quite good enough to move directly to Catholic’s Heaven and aren’t so bad that they head directly to Hell. The time in Purgatory can be shortened by purchasing indulgences, a great money-maker for priests in the Middle Ages. Now the Catholic Church grants indulgences for such activities as climbing the Sacred Steps in Rome or attending the week-long Catholic World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. In an attempt to attract the younger crowd, Pope Francis has added another classification of indulgence, following him on Twitter. His social media guru, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, said that those who read the tweets must be truly contrite and have a moment of deepening faith.

Catholic membership has rapidly fallen recently: ten percent of adults in the U.S. are former Catholics, about evenly divided between the unaffiliated and Protestant. Sixty percent of those who abandoned Catholicism said that they were dissatisfied with its position on abortion and homosexuality, half cite birth control, and 40 percent are unhappy with the treatment of women. The Catholic Church has the same problem as the GOP: they’re trying to attract new members by continuing the beliefs that caused them to lose all the former ones.

A bit of hope for the finale. Two-hundred self-identified evangelical scientists have written the Congress, asking for legislation to reduce carbon emissions and protect the environment. Holding master’s or doctorate degrees in scientific fields, these 200 people cited scientific evidence of increased extreme weather events and cite Biblical teachings of charity and compassion for the poor.

“The Bible tells us that ‘love does no harm to its neighbor’ (Romans 13:10), yet the way we live now harms our neighbors, both locally and globally. For the world’s poorest people, climate change means dried-up wells in Africa, floods in Asia that wash away crops and homes, wildfires in the U.S. and Russia, loss of villages and food species in the Arctic, environmental refugees, and disease. Our changing climate threatens the health, security, and well-being of millions of people who are made in God’s image. The threat to future generations and global prosperity means we can no longer afford complacency and endless debate. We as a society risk being counted among ‘those who destroy the earth’ (Revelation 11:18).”

Let’s hope that the conservative Christians join these scientists.

July 13, 2013

We Need to Stop “Stand Your Ground” Laws

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:19 PM
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The six women on the jury in the George Zimmerman delivered their verdict earlier this evening: he was found not guilty of the charges. Florida law permits anyone to stalk a person and then shoot that person in case of an altercation. Zimmerman was carrying a gun as he drove his pickup to follow the unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. After the police told Zimmerman not to pursue Martin, Zimmerman continued his mission. If he had obeyed the police, there would have been no trial because there would have been no death. The law allowed Zimmerman to kill Martin.

Thirty-one states have some form of  these “stand your ground” laws, backed by the National Rifle Association. The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), controlled by huge corporations, has provided the template to this law across the country and hope to add more states to its total.

Florida’s skewed view of “stand your ground” is demonstrated by two cases. A few months ago, a 70-year-old man in Brandon (FL) shot and killed a man having sex with his wife in the living room. He claimed that his wife was “fornicating” with the man, but in court he used the excuse that he thought she was being raped. A jury deliberated two hours before finding the man not guilty.

Three years ago, a 31-year-old woman with no criminal record tried to get some personal belongings from her former home and found her estranged husband there. They argued, and she feared for her life. Her husband agreed that she was in danger: “I was in a rage. I called her a whore and bitch and … I told her … if I can’t have you, nobody going to have you,” he said in a deposition. She first hid in the bathroom, and when her husband tried to break down the door, she fled to the garage. It was locked, so she came back with a gun legally registered to her.

Her husband said, “I told her … I ain’t going nowhere, and so I started walking toward her … I was cursing and all that … and she shot in the air.” He admitted that she was acting in self-defense, trying to frighten and stop him but not harm him. “The gun was never actually pointed at me … The fact is, you know … she never been violent toward me. I was always the one starting it,” he said. No one was hurt.

Last year, a jury took 12 minutes to find her guilty of aggravated assault. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In both these Florida cases, the people used the defense of “stand your ground” that holds that a person has “no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.” The man who shot his wife’s lover to death was successful and walks free. The woman who shot at a wall to scare an abusive husband failed and sits in prison.

The man is white, and the woman is black. The Tampa Bay Times found a great disparity between judgments based on the defendant’s ethnicity. Seventy-three percent of those killing a black person faced no penalty with the “stand your ground” defense. Only 59 percent of those who killed a white person got off. The Urban Institute determined that in “stand your ground” states, 34 percent of homicides of white shooters killing black victims are deemed justifiable. When black shooters kill white victims, only 3 percent of the deaths are ruled justifiable.

Economists at Georgia State, using monthly data from the U.S. Vital Statistics, found a significant increase in homicide and injury among whites, especially white males in states with “stand your ground” laws. Data from the Health Care Utilization Project reveals significantly increased rates of emergency room visits and hospital discharges related to gun injuries in states which enacted these laws. In Florida, self-defense claims have tripled since the law was passed.

The author of a Daily Kos blog summarized the problem with “stand your ground” laws:

“The people who’ve embraced the Stand Your Ground laws and all the rest of that agenda are people whose lives are driven by fear. They can claim all the noble purpose and higher principles they like; it’s still fear in the driver’s seat. But not just fear alone. It’s also about inspiring fear in others. It’s about making your enemies (whomever you wish to target) too afraid to challenge you. It’s about always getting your way – because others are afraid to get on your bad side, and because you don’t trust them enough to deal with them any other way. It goes hand in hand with going through life as the biggest, baddest bully. When your life is built around fear, it’s the logic that safety and power comes from making others fear you more than you fear them.”

As the writer pointed out, fear motivates people in the United States to attack any country perceived to be a threat, accept civilian causalities in drone strikes, and put people into prison without legal charge while subjecting them to torture. Fear makes people tolerant of spying on the country’s citizens without provocation and drives them to violate most of the U.S. Constitution.

Because of this fear, people collect unknown quantities of guns, carry them everywhere, and pass laws  allowing people to claim self-defense for killings.

July 8, 2013

Raise Insurance on People with Guns

Since the horrific Newtown massacre last December, at least 114 children died because of guns—four of them in the week before the Fourth of July, celebrating “independence.” There could have been many more because the government is prevented by law, passed by conservatives, to track these deaths.

In Kentucky a four-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his six-year old sister after their grandfather left a gun unattended without checking to see if it was loaded. In Ohio, 12-year-old Austin Wiseman shot and killed his nine-year-old brother, Blake Campbell when they were left unattended by their grandparents in a home with multiple weapons. In Louisiana, a five-year-old girl shot and killed herself, probably by accident, after she was locked alone in a bedroom while her mother went to the store.

Many more small children have become killers, but they aren’t the only ones. The same week that the four children were killed, 38-year-old Sgt. Lance McLean of the Hood County Sheriff’s Office (Texas) was shot and killed with an assault-type rifle by Ricky McCommas, an avid gun enthusiast who sold guns from his home. McCommas had recently been charged with sexually assaulting his wife’s niece a year ago.  He had gone to the victim’s home with a gun to convince her to drop the charges. After the shooting, police seized over two dozen guns and 20 cases of ammunition from McCommas’ home.

In the same state, the Armed Citizen Project (ACP) in Houston (TX) is giving away free shotguns to single women and residents of neighborhoods with high crime rates. The group plans to extend the giveaways to 15 cities. People who support the Second Amendment are concerned about more gun-related deaths rather than less crime because of the ACP’s actions.

David Hemenway, a professor of health policy and management at the Harvard School of Public Health, cited studies showing that gun ownership is correlated with more crime. “When there is a gun in the mix, there is much more likely to be somebody dying or somebody incredibly hurt,” he said. Single-mother Cheryl Strain hopes that she will be less nervous firing the shotgun with more training. She’s also having her 12-year-old son Rory practicing.

The more guns people have, the more guns other people can steal. For example, 21-year-old Justin Jaspar drove a stolen pickup to the University of Washington in Seattle to “argue with some legislators” with maps of three college campuses as well as weapons that included a deer rifle, a double-barrel shotgun, Molotov cocktails, and military-grade body armor. He had taken these from long-haul trucker Erik Henderson of Butte (MT) who gave Jasper a ride from Idaho and left him at his house while he went onto another haul. Henderson said he didn’t want to prosecute Jaspar because it would take too much time.

Henderson’s experience is not unique. After President Obama announced his plans to make it more difficult for criminals and people with mental illness to get guns, he ordered the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to provide an annual report on lost and stolen firearms in the United States. The first one, for the year 2012, came out the end of June, hidden under the excitement of NSA surveillance, IRS so-called targeting, etc.

Nationwide, National Crime Information Center (NCIC) received reports of 190,342 lost and stolen firearms. Texas had the most, 18,874 stolen weapons. Gun dealers reported the loss of 9 percent of the total, 16,667. Of those 5,762 were reported as stolen. The remaining 10,915 firearms were reported as lost. Gun dealers lost over 10,000 guns. The real numbers are certainly much worse because non-dealers are not required to report any missing guns. People are also not required to maintain records of guns they own, including the serial numbers.

Because of the nation’s archaic laws, the ATF traces guns, in the words of The Daily Beast’s Adam Winkler, “the way 17th-century monks copied texts: by hand.” He explained:

“When a gun is found at a crime scene, ATF agents can’t just look up who owned the gun in a computer database. They first have to call the gun manufacturer and find out which wholesaler purchased it. Then they have to get the wholesaler on the line and find out which dealer purchased the gun from the wholesaler. Then they have to call the gun dealer and have the dealer’s files searched by hand to identify the first consumer to purchase the gun. If the gun dealer is no longer in business, ATF agents have to search through files—many of them handwritten—maintained in cardboard boxes, one by one. Because we don’t require background checks on all gun sales, all this work may be for naught. Even if the person who bought the gun is identified, he may just say he sold the gun to an unknown person. For this secondary transaction, which is perfectly legal, there won’t be any files to sift through.”

The ATF goes through this process over 300,000 a year in wasted time costing taxpayers millions of dollars. Law-breaking gun dealers are protected by the law that limits inspections to once a year. With 70,000 licensed gun dealers in the country, the ATF would need seven years to inspect each one because of their limited funding and personnel. In one of the few gun laws this year—all of them supporting gun violence—Congress reduced the penalty for falsifying records from a felony to a misdemeanor.

To make violence in the country worse, conservative states are passing the so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws that encourage more killing. A prime case is the current George Zimmerman trial in Florida. Almost 18 months ago, a man took his gun, got into his truck, and tracked a teenager who was walking through the neighborhood minding his own business. Even after the police told Zimmerman to leave the teenager alone, he got out of his truck and approached Trayvon Martin. What happened from there, no one exactly know, but Zimmerman precipitated the entire situation up until then against special directions from the police. This wasn’t the first time that Zimmerman had stalked people and the police had told him not to do this. Now he claims that it was self-defense.

Zimmerman’s actions follow then Vice-President Dick Cheney’s One Percent Doctrine precipitated by the World Trade Center disaster of 9/11. Cheney’s method of protecting the country from danger is that people are encouraged to destroy the potential adversary with just one-percent suspicion of harm. George W. Bush used the one-percent solution to attack Iraq based on faulty intelligence. “It is not about our intelligence,” the vice president declared. “It is about our response.”

The jury’s decision in the Zimmerman trial will affect thousands of lives across the United States. His exoneration would send the message that creating a situation in which one can cry “self-defense” gives license to kill anyone. As Hemenway said,“Firearms are used far more often to frighten and intimidate than they are used in self-defense.” When arguments get out of control, one or both of those involved may reach for a gun and kill the other.

One study shows that judges perceive shootings by people who claim self-defense, as described by the shooter, are usually not legal uses of self-defense and could be avoided. Approximately half of convicted felons who used a gun in their crimes claim they did so in self-defense. These claims for shootings often come from the desire to shoot a person because someone “disrespected” them with a comment or look–that the person “had it coming to them.”

The greatest proof of guns being dangerous comes from the EMC Insurance Company that ensures 90 percent of Kansas schools. The company won’t give coverage to districts which allow teachers to carry guns. The Wright Speciality and Continental Western Group insurance providers said the same thing. EMC gave “the financial security of our company” as the reason for this refusal.

Maybe this can start a trend. Insurance for smokers skyrocketed in costs. People who have dogs in one or more 11 breeds have to pay extra for their insurance. Insurance companies should do the same thing for gun owners.

June 13, 2013

Good News Other Than Rampant Bigotry

Congress is lower than cockroaches, found one poll six months ago. The nation’s legislative branch isn’t doing any better now; it’s at the bottom of 16 institutions—for the fourth consecutive year. Only 10 percent of the respondents had confidence in Congress, almost 25 percent down from last year. The rating is the lowest level of confidence that Gallup has ever found for any institution on record.

Despite the low rating, there is some good news, some of it from Congress itself. The 60-vote GOP mandate in the Senate has bitten the party that has obsessively used this super majority. The GOP-proposed amendment to immigration reform that border security must satisfy them for at least six month before any other action got only a 57-43 vote today. Two Democrats voted against tabling the amendment, and five Republicans joined the Democrat majority to vote it down.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who introduced the amendment, said, “This vote proves this ‘open and fair process’ is a farce. The majority is afraid of having a true vote on my amendment.” His problem is that the GOP senators have blocked almost all action in the Senate for year, excessively using this mythical super majority mandate.

The bill already has provisions for border security, requiring apprehension of 90 percent of people trying to cross the southern border illegally. In addition, the bill has very restrictive conditions. If the immigration reform bill were to become law, undocumented people in the U.S. could not approach legal status for at least 13 years. That could only happen after people undergo a background check, pay a fine and back taxes, learn English, and wait in line for a green card.

While Congress remains inert, the courts are moving forward. With less than two weeks to deliver all its decisions for the past session, the Supreme Court announced a unanimous ruling that companies cannot patent parts of naturally-occurring human genes. This reverses almost 30 years of  the lucrative practice of awarding gene patents, which included one company controlling the test on a genetic disposition toward breast cancer. Myriad Genetics was sued because its ownership to the human gene kept other companies from developing tests.

Surprisingly, the silent Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the decision that maintained laws of nature, natural phenomena and abstract ideas are not patentable. The court did throw companies a bone, ruling that they could patent synthetically-created DNA.

SCOTUS still has not announced before they recess, possibly on June 27. A year ago, the most waited-for decision, Obamacare, came out at the end of the court’s year, giving Chief Justice John Roberts a chance to get out of the country a few days after he voted on what the conservatives perceived to be the wrong side. The marriage equality decisions will probably be announced immediately before the end of June as was the June 26, 2003, decision on Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state laws banning same-sex intimacy. 2003.

A recent federal court decision involving the Supreme Court may be appealed to SCOTUS. Judge Beryl A. Howell ruled against the law that bans organizing protesting and signs in front of the Supreme Court to be unconstitutional, calling the 1949 legislation passed by Congress “unreasonable” and “substantially overbroad.”

Charles A. Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, said about the decision:

“Judge Howell’s frank, no-holds-barred ruling affirming the Supreme Court plaza as a free speech zone throws a lifeline to the First Amendment at a time when government officials are doing their best to censor, silence and restrict free speech activities.”

Another First Amendment right, separation of church and state, is being celebrated this week in the 50th anniversary of School District of Abington Township, Pennsylvania v. Schempp. This case stopped daily Bible readings and saying the Lord’s Prayer in schools, declaring the practice unconstitutional. In the past few years, the Pennsylvania legislation has regressed, having declared the year 2012 as “The Year of the Bible,” October 2012 as “Prayer Month,” and May 3, 2012 a “Day of Prayer.” William Penn, early champion of religious freedom, probably wouldn’t agree.

On the negative side, however, the lizard part of conservatives’ brains promoting bigotry was active two days ago:

George Zimmerman’s murder trial: Discussing jury selection for the man  who stalked, shot, and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, former NYPD detective Harry Houck said, “Listen, Trayvon Martin would be alive today, okay, if he didn’t, alright, have a street attitude.” This is the excuse for someone who ignored a 9/11 dispatcher’s order to stay in his car before he followed his prey.

The Boy Scouts of America’s decision to permit gay members: On his 700 Club show, televangelist Pat Robertson said:

“[The LGBT community is] willing to rip apart the framework of traditional marriage, to rip apart an organization that has done so much good for young people… All for one thing, that the way they do sex will be accepted in the mainstream of society…  It’s been a marvelous institution, and to see that torn up in order to accommodate a few kids who want to do sex with each other, I mean, it boggles the mind.”

Muslims’ complicity in extremist terrorism: Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) said on the House floor that Muslims in the United States did not condemn acts of Islamic extremist terrorism against the U.S. and are therefore complicit in attacks, past and future. Accusing them of deafening silence, he himself did not hear the ways that Muslim leaders and communities have condemned the terrorists’ violence and extremism. For example, immediately after the Boston bombers were identified as Muslim, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued a statement:

“As Americans, we are a united force against any form of tyranny, whether it be in the form of terrorism or otherwise…Terrorism has no allegiance to faith or ethnicity, and we have been witness to that over the past few years. What happened in Boston and Watertown last week does not reflect on anyone except for those who carried it out. It is not a reflection of ethnic identity, religion, or national affiliation.”

The Obama administration’s announcement that it will not block access to Plan B for any woman or girl: Laura Ingraham angrily responded, “It’s a good deal for pedophiles, a good deal for people who commit statutory rape against young girls.”

The virulent attack against an 11-year-old boy through Twitter: Singing phenomenon Sebastien de la Cruz (pictured above with his parents), featured on America’s Got Talent, gave a beautiful rendition of the national anthem at the San Antonio Spurs game. The unleashing of racist hate was unforgivable as shown by two of the disgusting tweets:

“This lil Mexican snuck in the country like 4 hours ago now he singing the anthem” –@A2daO

“Who let this illegal alien sing our national anthem?” –@MCyrus2

De la Cruz, the son of a Navy sailor, was born and raised in San Antonio. With grace, he answered the rants:

“People don’t know, they just assume that I’m just Mexican. But I’m not from Mexico, I’m from San Antonio, born and raised; a true Spurs fan.”

This response shows that there is hope for the future.

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